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Shrovetide

Monday, 4 March, 2019

“Shrove” is an interesting word. Has its origins in the Catholic practice of confessing one’s sins and being absolved or “shriven” of them. The word comes ultimately from the Latin scribere “to write”, which is the source of the English “scribe” and the Christian meaning evolved via the sense of “to prescribe penances”. The three days prior to Ash Wednesday are known as Shrovetide and, traditionally, it was a time of eating, drinking music making and card playing. Then came the fasting, one of those ancient rites in which food intake is limited and physical activities are reduced to the point where the person fasting enters a state of quiescence comparable, symbolically, to death. Today, it’s much less extreme, but if the “digital detox” trend ever gains traction in Lent, phone addicts who give up their addiction for the required 40 days and 40 nights may enter a state comparable, symbolically, to death.

Shrove Monday is an observance falling on the Monday before Ash Wednesday every year and it’s part of diverse Carnival celebrations that take place in many parts of the Christian world. Shrove Monday (Rosenmontag) is central to German, Swiss and Austrian Carnival calendar. In the Rhineland, as part of the pre-Lenten Fasching (Feast of Fools) festival , it’s a day of parades, marching, revelry and the display of satirical floats that poke fun at the political class.


Before Nones

Friday, 18 January, 2019

The Cistercian monks at Mount Melleray Abbey in Cappoquin, Co. Waterford, begin their day with Vigils at 4.30 am and end at 8.00 pm with Compline. At 2.15 pm, they celebrate Nones, also known as None, from the Latin Nona (“Ninth”, the Ninth Hour). Their prayers consist mainly of psalms.

Nones


The Feast of the Epiphany

Sunday, 6 January, 2019

“How Real Is The Meaning?” That was the question posed by Walter Russell Mead some years ago in a meditation on the Feast of the Epiphany. Taking as his starting point the Biblical account of the Three Kings who brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to Bethlehem, Mead went on a long journey into a meaning that’s centered on this question: How much of the Christmas story is “real” and how much of both this story — and ultimately the entire record of the Scriptures — is historically accurate? It’s all very apt for today’s Feast of the Epiphany. Mead’s conclusion:

“The wise men who followed the star were led to the center of all things. They did not understand the difference between astronomy and astrology as well as we do, but they used what they knew to get to where they needed to be.

It was enough for them, and people today can still do the same thing. We can follow the light we have to the center of all things, to a place that both shepherds and scholars can find, and when we arrive, like both the shepherds and the wise men, we will find that it has what we need.”

Painting: The Adoration of the Magi is an early work by Hieronymus Bosch. The painting was thoroughly investigated by The Bosch Research and Conservation Project and an analysis revealed a palette consisting of the typical pigments employed in the Renaissance period, such as azurite, lead-tin yellow, carmine and gold leaf.

The Magi


Cecilia

Thursday, 22 November, 2018

One of the oldest musical institutions in the world is the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome. It was founded at the command of Pope Sixtus V in 1585, who invoked two saints: Gregory the Great, after whom Gregorian chant is named, and Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of music. Her feast day is celebrated in the Catholic, Anglican and Eastern Orthodox churches on 22 November. The story goes that Cecelia was a noble lady of Rome, who, with her husband Valerian, his brother Tiburtius and a Roman soldier named Maximus, suffered martyrdom in about 230 under the Emperor Severus Alexander. She was buried in the Catacomb of Callixtus, and her remains were later transferred to the Church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere.

This portrait of Saint Ceclia is by Il Lucchese, Antonio Franchi (1638–1709). After training in Lucca with Domenico Ferrucci, he moved to Florence to work under Medici patronage. He also published a text on the occupation of painting titled, La Teorica della Pittura.

Saint Cecelia


All our Saints’ Day

Thursday, 1 November, 2018

Initiated by Pope Boniface IV, who consecrated the Pantheon to the Virgin Mary and the martyrs on 13 May 609 AD, All Saints’ Day may have been intended to co-opt the “Feast of Lemuria,” which the old Religio Romana used for placating the restless spirits of the dead. The Christian holy day was established on 1 November in the mid-eighth century by Pope Gregory III as a day dedicated to the saints and their relics.

Our saints

“All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”
— Saint Francis


The Catholic Sun

Wednesday, 26 September, 2018

Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
There’s always laughter and good red wine.
At least I’ve always found it so.
Benedicamus Domino!

Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953)

If he were to return to us, what would the Anglo-French writer Hilaire Belloc writer make of the state of the Catholic Church? Would he be plunged into despair by its various scandals? Or would he simply walk away from the Faith? To guess the answer, and to help put today’s trials into perspective, it pays to dip into Belloc’s 1937 book The Crusades: the World’s Debate. In it, he wrote, “Our religion is in peril… There is with us a complete chaos in religious doctrine… We worship ourselves, we worship the nation; or we worship (some few of us) a particular economic arrangement believed to be the satisfaction of social justice…” Twenty years later, he added:

“The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine — but for unbelievers a proof of its divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight.”

To understand Hilaire Belloc’s outlook, one needs appreciate the complexity of his worldview: he was anti-imperialist, but doubtful of parliamentary democracy; he opposed both capitalism and socialism, and was suspected of anti-Semitism but was violently contemptuous of Hitler. His Catholicism, however, was uncompromising, and he believed that the Catholic Church provided house and home for the human spirit.

“Gentlemen, I am a Catholic. As far as possible, I go to Mass every day. If you reject me on account of my religion, I shall thank God that He has spared me the indignity of being your representative.” From a speech to the voters of South Salford in response to his Tory opponent’s slogan, ‘Don’t vote for a Frenchman and a Catholic.’ On polling day, 13 January 1906, Belloc, standing as a Liberal, overturned a Conservative majority to win by 852 votes, winning again four years later.

Sunflower


Pope Francis – A Man Of His Word

Monday, 16 April, 2018 0 Comments

German director Wim Wenders will be back at the Festival de Cannes (8 to 19 May) with a new documentary titled Pope Francis – A Man Of His Word. According to Wenders, it’s “a personal journey with Pope Francis rather than a traditional biographical film about him. A rare co-production with the Vatican, the pope’s ideas and his message are central to this documentary, which sets out to present his work of reform and his answers to today’s global questions from death, social justice, immigration, ecology, wealth inequality, materialism, and the role of the family.”

Note: Today is the 91st birthday of retired Pope Benedict XVI. Felix dies Natalis tibi!


The Crucifixion with the Virgin and Saint John

Friday, 30 March, 2018 0 Comments

This powerful image of by Hendrick Jansz ter Brugghen was painted around 1624 for a Catholic “hidden church” in the city of Utrecht, where Catholicism was tolerated but not encouraged. The colour combinations and the light evoke Ter Brugghen’s experience of Caravaggio in Rome, but the angular figure of Christ and the reverential figures of Mary and John are very much his own. The Crucifixion with the Virgin and Saint John expresses the devotional intensity that Good Friday has evoked down the centuries.

Good Friday


Patrician peak

Saturday, 17 March, 2018 0 Comments

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh go léir! (Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to you all!)

The holiest mountain in Ireland is Croagh Patrick, five miles from the town of Westport and overlooking island-dotted Clew Bay. According to local belief, Saint Patrick fasted for forty days and nights on the summit during Lent in the year 441 AD, and on the last Sunday in July every year (“Reek Sunday”), pilgrims from near and far climb the mountain in honour of Saint Patrick.

In 1972, the great Magnum photographer Josef Koudelka climbed Croagh Patrick and captured the quintessence of rural Irish Catholicism in one iconic image. The kneeling pilgrims pictured are, from left to right, Sean Pheat Mannion, Paddy Kenny and Martin Mannion from Connemara. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anam.

Croagh Patrick


Tecla: key saint

Saturday, 23 September, 2017 0 Comments

Santa Tecla is regarded as the patron saint of Tarragona in Catalonia and her September feast day is the town’s major holiday. The event is accompanied by non-stop drumming, firecrackers and spectacular fireworks after dark.

Tecla celebrations

Note: In many Spanish-speaking countries, Santa Tecla is also considered the patron saint of computers and the internet, from the homophony with the Spanish and Catalan word tecla (“key”).

Tradition: Tecla (Thecla) was a saint of the early Christian Church and a follower of Paul the Apostle. She was miraculously saved from burning at the stake by the onset of a storm and then travelled with Paul to Antioch of Pisidia where an aristocrat attempted to rape her. Tecla fought him off and was put on trial for the crime of assaulting a nobleman. She was sentenced to be eaten by wild beasts but was again saved by a miracle, when the female beasts protected her against the male aggressors. She rejoined Paul in Myra and became a healer. Such was her popularity that the physicians in the city lost their livelihoods, so they hired a gang of young men to attempt to spoil her virginity at the age of 90. As they were about to take her, she called out to God and the ground opened up and then closed behind her. She was thus able to go to Rome and die in peace beside Saint Paul’s tomb.


The Christian conundrum

Tuesday, 28 February, 2017 0 Comments

Early Christianity expanded rapidly through Asia Minor, Egypt, Greece and Italy. Because it had no linguistic, cultural, ethnic or territorial centre, it spread to towns, cities and communities that differed widely from one another. The rulers of Rome had seen nothing like it and were confounded by this new and challenging ideology. The British classicist Mary Beard discusses how the Romans viewed the conundrum of Christianity in her excellent SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome. Snippet:

“First, it had no ancestral home. In their ordered religious geography, Romans expected deities to be from somewhere: Isis from Egypt, Mithras from Persia, the Jewish god from Judaea. The Christian god was rootless, claimed to be universal and sought more adherents. All kinds of mystical moments of enlightenment might attract new worshippers to (say) the religion of Isis. But Christianity was defined entirely by a process of spiritual conversion that was utterly new. What is more, some Christians were preaching values that threatened to overturn some of the most fundamental Greco-Roman assumptions about the nature of the world and of the people within it: that poverty, for example, was good; or that the body was to be tamed or rejected rather than cared for. SPQR All these factors help to explain the worries, confusion and hostility of Pliny and others like him. At the same time, the success of Christianity was rooted in the Roman Empire, in its territorial extent, in the mobility that it promoted, in its towns and its cultural mix. From Pliny’s Bithynia to Perpetua’s Carthage, Christianity spread from its small-scale origins in Judaea largely because of the channels of communication across the Mediterranean world that the Roman Empire had opened up and because of the movement through those channels of people, goods, books and ideas. The irony is that the only religion that the Romans ever attempted to eradicate was the one whose success their empire made possible and which grew up entirely within the Roman world.”

Is past prologue? Could a faith-based or technology-driven belief system challenge the fundamentals of our world? Note: The phrase “What’s past is prologue” comes from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, Act 2, Scene I. In contemporary usage, the phrase stands for the idea that history sets the context for the present. The quotation is engraved on the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C.